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Developing an Online Presence

Small business owners everywhere are facing the same dilemma: how do we drive foot traffic in a web traffic world. Here’s a few tips on developing an online presence.

Word of Mouth Gone South

The days of simply relying on word of mouth, for the most part, are the product of a bygone era. Consumer purchase behavior, particularly as it relates to Gen Y and Millennials is increasingly influenced by a company’s online presence. This used to be limited strictly to online entities like Amazon and eBay, and had little influence over localized purchases.

However, in recent years, and with the further development of localized social media resources such as Yelp and Google Places, localized purchasing behavior has changed dramatically. With so many options available when evaluating any given product purchase, this generation has gone to online channels to try and help them sift through the vast amount of alternatives they are presented with. This being the case, online presence and reputation management has become more important than ever.

Where to Begin

Website development, Search Engine Optimization and other inbound marketing tactics are all tools to help you establish your web presence, but these services can be rather expensive. As small business owners, we are lucky to even be in the black during the first year. Marketing can represent a significant expenditure, but also can pay the biggest dividends in terms of ROI. Many small businesses fail because they are not willing to take risks.

Often, it might be worthwhile to extend a line of credit in the form of an unsecured business loan or similar finance vehicle in order to invest in your marketing efforts. An effective online marketing campaign can bring in long-term revenue that will more than compensate for the finance charges associated with these forms of transactions. Once you have the funding in place, you can begin establishing your online footprint and bringing in web and foot traffic.

Where do I start?

It is important to have a good-looking and search-engine-friendly website. While SEO’s (Search Engine Optimizers) and web developers have their place, there are lots of tools and content management systems such as WordPress to help you get your site online and make it aesthetically pleasing with minimal effort and cost on your part. Make sure you have relevant content on your site that makes sense if your target customers were to navigate to your page. Also, try to make sure it is clear what products and services you offer and that it is obvious to the customer how to get those products, and that acquiring them requires minimal effort on their part.

Including plugins in your design that help customers find you using Google Maps, or even call you directly from their smart phone by clicking an icon on your site can have tremendous value when it comes to conversion online traffic into real life sales. In order to encourage repeat visitors and purchases, make sure your unique brand image and values are communicated in your site. Like your store, you want people to keep coming back and to remember you instead of your competitors.

Branching out Online

Now that you have a site to serve as your online hub, you can branch out into other channels. Yelp and Google Places are a great place to start. For Google Places, simply getting quality photos of your business can go a long way. Ideally, the goal for all online marketing for your brick and mortar store is to communicate your brand, your environment, and your unique value to your customers. The toughest part of doing this is getting positive customer reviews on sites like Yelp, or Urban Spoon (for restaurants) that will lead to new customers.

Even one negative review can be the difference between someone coming to your establishment, or taking their business elsewhere. Soliciting these reviews is one of the unique challenges that small business owners face in the business environment today. Offering incentives such as future discounts, free gifts etc. to your customers to post reviews can provide another great return on investment.

It is easy to say great things about your own business, but that lacks credibility. Real endorsements from real people carry tremendous weight. Word of mouth has moved to word of web, and learning to navigate this transition can carry tremendous impact in promoting your small business.

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One Response to Developing an Online Presence

  1. Stuart Watkin January 27, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    Word of web is great expression and while I whole heartedly agree it is more than crucial in todays business world, word of mouth is not dead, not by along way. It is simply that the method of communication that has evolved. Particularly in a country like Ireland that relies so heavily on small and micro businesses. Many of our small businesses depend on their local community to provide their customer base. Ireland is a small country and effectively we are all local. Developing a strong word of mouth reputation is vital and working that in conjunction with brand loyalty and word of web reputation is a really strong foundation to your marketing campaign. If you can get the local social media talking positively about your business on a regular basis you will help control your reputation (Every business has one. Some people control theirs while others are controlled by it -But that is another days story). You can use that social media to develop a strong word of mouth campaign. People do and always will , wherever possible, buy from people that they know, like and trust. The web and word of mouth can help you used that to your advantage. Love it or hate it, you cannot ignore it.

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